Godspeed, Jackie J.
by Patrick Donovan
Oh God, Godzilla’s destroyed LA, is what Jackie J. would have been saying had she not helped her boss, Dr. Jorgen, with his fungus. In the twilight, after Dr. Jorgen had died out at sea chasing Godzilla from the ruins of Los Angeles in a giant, orange mecha-suit whose only weakness was brine, Jackie J. discovered an envelope from him slipped beneath her dorm room door. Late that night, J.J. finally settled on her dissertation, a portrait: Godzilla’s face framed by golden locks of hair, eye-shadow and blush on her scales, Dr. Jorgen’s silhouette reflecting in her eyes, and a thick smear of orange lipstick wrapped around the half-smoked cigarette hanging from her lizard lips. She turned it in in time to graduate, though the semester had been suspended. She was an art major who made bio-art in a department that would not let her. A minor in biology got her work-study under Dr. Jorgen. In the envelope he had left for her, she found all the files and data needed to recreate his work for when Godzilla returned. He had meant well.
But things first began to heat up for J.J. earlier in the spring when, one day during Dr. Jorgen’s office hours, two G-men busted in and told her to scram. She hustled over to Campus Smoothie for a medium with immunity boosting powder. This was no time to joke around. A cryptic text came in from Dr. Jorgen that evening asking her to mix up a potent color with her paints. She went back to her dorm room, rustled out the vodka, and set up an easel and canvas, paints, two shot glasses, and the half pack of cigarettes she had found that day. She opened the dorm room window, a liberty she took because her roommate lived off campus with her boyfriend and maintained the dorm room for her parents’ sake. Jackie J. liked the arrangement. At the easel, she started mixing some blues and greens. She could not guess what Dr. Jorgen wanted her to pick a color for. Maybe he was going to brighten up his office or had a bar chart for some research paper that needed sprucing up. Even top secret documents could use appealing bar charts. She sketched out the contours of his bearded chin, then the rest of his face, and used blue and green hues to fill out a two-color portrait of Jorgen. While she worked she occasionally drank shots of vodka and spoke of comrades in a consciously bad Russian accent. The paintbrush moved in her hand as though her muscles were strewn with velvet. In general, Jackie J. would have caused sparks if she could have painted with metal. When the second wave of her buzz really sank in, she had already added a beret, sunglasses, and a lit cigarette hanging out of Jorgen’s mouth, and was now mixing paint. She aimed for a bright orange with a tinge of lime. A haze of satisfaction settled onto her as she added a beaker with the orange paint, wick out of the top, and DYNAMITE painted like stencil in black on the side. J.J. set her paintbrush down and poured two more shots of vodka. She admired the shocking orange she had made for Jorgen’s request. Then she shot the first shot and then the other. Jackie J. felt like she should be out of breath, but aside from her slightly heightened heartbeat and a gentle sway when she stood, everything was well and still.
Her mouth popped and she was drunk. She lit a cigarette and sipped from the glass. She wanted to tear the whole thing to pieces and start over, but by the time the tobacco ember neared her fingertips, the canvas and everything about it seemed far too far away. She lit another cigarette and thought, dejectedly, that perhaps the mural out back of the library she had to paint for her committee would not be so bad as she thought.
The next morning, first thing, Jackie J. ate two Advil with orange juice. She was barely present for her morning lectures, but by the afternoon, when she showed up at Jorgen’s office for work with the painting of him wrapped up under one of her arms, she felt pretty okay. She had thought about how to bring up the subject of the G-men with him.
“Now, before you say anything,” said Jackie J. as she started unwrapping the painting, “I had to leave so quick last time that I didn’t get to ask what I was choosing a color for, and I had to give myself a context to place it in, which required going beyond just picking a color, and, well, see for yourself.” It was not the best way to broach the subject, she knew, but it was not the worst. Jorgen had been smiling since she came in. J.J. had noticed that he always smiled when he saw her. Friendly, not creepy. Otherwise she would have been out of there like fast. She was pretty alright at spotting the creeps.
“Oh wow, J.J., that’s great, wow, I just don’t know what to say.”
She handed the painting to him to inspect. “Will the orange work in whatever this is all for?”
“Yes, it’s perfect, absolutely perfect.”
“What exactly is this all for?” This was maybe a better broach.
“It’s perfect. I don’t know which I love the most: the beret or the cigarette, but that orange, and the dynamite beaker, and it’s all just great.”
“I’m glad you like it.” She took her seat on the opposite side of Jorgen’s desk, facing him. “So, fungus then.”
“Jackie J., J.J., I think we’ve come to know one another a bit these last few months. Everything you’ve told me about your dissertation committee, the fights and fuss with the faculty, it’s very much like what I’ve been going through with my bosses.”
“Dean Reinhardt?” she asked, though she knew he meant the G-men.
“He’s only another cog. I mean the bosses that make my work classified.”
“The fungus. Why don’t you close the door.”
Jackie J. stood and closed the door, her heartbeat heightened, her palms already moist, her armpits starting to sweat. “We’re subversives, aren’t we,” she said, and then smiled because it was true.
“Yes we are, Jackie J., and I need your help with my fungus.”
He told her about his classified work on a bio-mechanical fungus that converted smog into energy: growable machines that could be operated like drones to clean the air. It sounded far-out to Jackie J. but not all that subversive.
“The air pollution cleanup is just a public-friendly face for the project on the budget line. I’m sure you’ve seen a Godzilla movie?”
J.J. had not seen a Godzilla movie before but was familiar with the concept. “I’ve seen the Mothman Prophecies, if that helps.” It was a sincere attempt. “He’s part of Godzilla, right?”
“That was Mothra, but you know what Godzilla is.”
“Giant lizard, tears down Tokyo, wash, rinse, repeat. What are you saying; Godzilla is real?”
“More or less. Anyways, it’s close enough that we call her Godzilla. She’s headed for Los Angeles and I intend to stop her.”
“With your fungus?”
“It is rather resilient.”
“And your bosses don’t want to?”
“They want to see Los Angeles destroyed.”
“Everyone wants to see L.A. destroyed.”
“There’s more money in it. Do you know how many defense contractors are out here? They’ll get to upgrade their facilities on the public dollar, just watch.”
“Won’t the National Guard or the Marines from Pendleton stop it?” Jackie J.’s heart raced faster. She could tell that this was not bullshit.
“We already know they’ll fail. After L.A. is demolished, they’ll need new kinds of weapons, and with the eggs near hatching—”
“Dozens, hidden in the Mariana Trench. We’ll need all new technology.”
“And that will bolster those defense contractors and their ultra-modern facilities.”
“And instead, you’re going to stop Godzilla and save the city.”
“As much of it as I can.”
They discussed the politics until the end of the work day and decided to continue talking over spaghetti from an alright restaurant near campus. Jorgen ordered wine and they ate hungrily. Jackie J. talked about her plans for after graduation, the different bio-art projects she had in mind to submit for grants. After they finished eating, Jorgen explained the need to color his eggnog white fungus.
“They want to do tests at Monsanto up in Bakersfield. The scientists there have been scouring over my data. I just know they can’t wait to start playing with this stuff.”
“When will it be ready for them to start testing? Is that what the G-men came by about?”
“Yes. I’ve been miserable with my updates. They think we’re six months out from Godzilla—September or October—and then a year or two of trials. But they’re all wrong about her timetable.”
“But they want the city destroyed, so what does that matter?”
“They want to have proposals ready to go for Congress as soon as she hits.”
“How close are you?”
“I just need to add your color.”
“Then, what, about two or three weeks to synthesize enough spoors?”
“Would you be willing to spread them? I’m sure they suspect that I’m closer than six months, and they’ll take my computer and samples as soon as they can. They’ll start watching me before much longer.”
Jackie J. looked around the restaurant but could not spot any potential G-men, though she knew that did not mean they were not there. Jorgen felt confident talking with the bit of privacy they had, so she figured things were fine; and they were.
“We’ve got nothing to worry about for now, and it helps that you’re an art student. They have no idea I’d even come to you for help. Bunch of stuck-ups—they could all use a whiff of paint.” He took a sip of wine. “But so, I want my fungus a nice bright color that catches Godzilla’s eyes and to buy us some time. It’ll need a couple of days to spread.”
“But won’t the dean notice?”
“We’ll start on a weekend when he’s not around.”
“And really, they’ll know any fungus is yours.” A long pause held between them. “I’ll do it.” She had been wanting to dig her heels in and fight—fight her committee, the corporations and conglomerates, the establishment as a whole, art, art for art’s sake, slick paint that dries almost by the breath, green grass that grows, the bluff because it dropped off too far from the shore, the ocean because it was beautiful, and beauty because we had all been thinking about it so wrongly for far too long. She felt better and sipped her wine.
Jorgen smiled. “You spread it, I’ll take care of the rest. Without the eggnog white, and with the miracle of bureaucracy, it’ll take someone in charge just long enough to sort things out that it will be too late to stop us.” They clinked glasses and drank, energized by the prospect, the wine running down Jackie J.’s throat like satin and fire and revolution.
That weekend, Jackie J. went out behind the library to start work on the mural for her dissertation to keep up pretenses. Jorgen had said, after their spaghetti dinner, that he would adjust the fungal DNA to make it orange that nightto start growing it immediately. He would have spoors in a couple of weeks. She sat looking out at the ocean, smoking a cigarette from another pack she had found left on a concrete ashtray. Since J.J. never bought her own smokes, she could not decide if that kind of luck was good or bad, but she lit a second cigarette and tried to imagine some Godzilla-like thing, walking and swimming along the ocean floor towards Los Angeles.
Jackie J. figured that the she-beast had been provoked, considering the eggs and humanity’s track record. Plus, she would have been seen before if she had been naturally aggressive—and there had to be more, even if she were asexually reproducing because she likely came from a brood of dozens herself. So many questions, and she did not like where they generally led. The impact of what Jorgen had said finally peaked, and she felt terrified. She tuned into the gust around her, took an extra-long drag from the cigarette, held, held, held, and then blew it to the wind. Jackie J. kept her shit together.
J.J. continued sketching out ideas she did not like until a coed came around the corner with books under one arm and a scarf around his neck. She enjoyed the mid-seventies of spring and did not think the weather required neckwear.
“Industrial Design?” the guy asked. He sat on an adjacent concrete block and fished through his bag, looking at her.
“Mural for Fine Arts.”
“Usually no one sketches the buildings here is all I figured, but I guess the ocean’s become old hat.”
Jackie J. resented that comment but figured what the hell and asked him for a cigarette when he finally pulled the box out of his bag, and then a second one for later. The scarf was cashmere, and she figured he had loads of smokes back in his dorm, or more likely, his apartment off campus. He looked the type. She figured he was a musician. “Are you a musician?” she asked.
They each lit up after he said, “Yeah, how did you know.”
“Lucky Strikes, lucky guess.”
“But these are Newports.”
“Honestly, I could paint a joke better than I could tell one.”
“You’re funny,” he said. He had not laughed yet. This was getting nowhere. She inspected the book titles on the bindings under his arm. He handed the books over. “I’ve gone entirely digital with my sound. Inter-dimensional music—it’ll be the next thing. Think of it,” he took a long drag on his cigarette, “each note comprised of an entire song.” He went on to explain about note duration and hyper-compacting Fourier transforms and something called sonic ultimatums and Jackie J. thoroughly enjoyed the sounds he made and the taste of the Newport, though the whole idea was conceptual bullshit. Finally, he stopped to snub his embers in the ashtray.
Jackie J. said, “It all sounds very nice, but I doubt I’d have the ear for it.” He smiled weakly and headed off as she thanked him again for the cigarettes.
J.J. finished her sketch and then messaged her off-campus friends that she would not be going out that night. She slipped the second cigarette from the musician into the box with her remainder and started packing up to head back to her dorm room to paint, glad that, like the rebel she aspired to be, she had forsook manly comfort, idle philosophizing, dance, social dereliction, and drink for dedication to her work, her craft, an anarchy of color, though she would not entirely swear off the drink, come to think of it.
A new idea for the mural came to mind, so J.J. started sketching it out—young twenty-somethings done up in an art deco-jazz age-flappers mix, each with a cigarette socketed into opera-length cig holders, and thick billowy smoke the orange of the fungus, spreading and spreading. She would have to wait to paint the orange until after the fungus appeared. In the lower right hand corner, she would spray paint a bright green Surgeon General’s warning box with dripping letters that said, “Smoking kills the party y’all.” Jackie J. hoped something better than a coed musician would swing around the corner, so she had another cigarette but no such luck. She knew she was smoking too much and would need to cut back.
Two weeks passed where Jackie J. attended classes, began painting the mural, avoided friends who had started asking after her, worked with Jorgen grading papers, not talking about their plans. J.J. did not think about her schoolwork more than needed; she did not think about her plans for after graduation; she did not even think much about Godzilla. All her free time went to thinking about the fungus, how and where she would disperse the spores, what her cover story would be for walking around campus, what she would do if she got caught. On Friday afternoon, as she packed up her bag while telling Jorgen about her plans for the weekend, he opened a drawer and withdrew a five-gallon ziplock bag full of spores. He pushed the bag and a pair of gloves across the table towards her as he said, “Well, I hope you have a good weekend.” Jackie J. smiled and nodded. Then he passed her an envelope that had been sitting on his desk all day. She packed everything away, nodded at Jorgen again, and departed.
Jackie J. went straight to her dorm room and read the note: “J.J., The spores aren’t harmful, just sticky. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. If possible, get these out tonight while the campus is still partying. By late Sunday you’ll see the first signs, and a full bloom by Monday morning. I’ll be keeping quiet until then. Your dispersal map looks good. Watch out for Campus Safety. The G-men will have eyes on me, not you. Godspeed Jackie J.”
At about ten, Jackie J. loaded her backpack up with a sketch pad and pencils, an art history textbook, and the bag of spoors, which she double sacked in opaque drugstore plastic. She left her dorm and walked a block off campus to the corner store, contemplating the power packed into the fungal spores she carried in her bag, what some people might do to get ahold of them. She thought of the impending disaster they were meant to avert, and of Godzilla, and of the machine. Everyone around her in the convenience store had no idea the significance of the event, and J.J. knew this about them and wanted to shake them and hug them and save them from themselves. She bought a soda, a handle of vodka, and, for the first time in her life, a pack of cigarettes—expensive, vanilla flavored smokes in a golden box. She had brought her own lighter.
Jackie J. lit a cigarette and put headphones loosely in her ears but did not play any music. The headphones provided an excuse for her to ignore people. She told herself the cigarettes were to put-off those they would put-off and to give her a reason to be walking around outside. But Jackie J. knew she was lying to herself and accepted the fact. She headed towards her first drop-point feeling all subversive, enjoying the terrible waft of fumes—her tail.
J.J. brought the vodka to explain the fungus spores, which she would say she bought off the internet thinking they were some new legal form of shrooms if she found herself in a really tight spot because she’d had no run-ins with Campus Safety during her time at the university, and a first-time drug offense would just get her a citation, a fine, and probably random drug screening for the rest of the semester. It was better than folding on Jorgen.
The first stop on her route was at the bluff, behind the library where her mural was underway. From there she would continue along the bluff and circle campus, spiraling inwards. J.J. lit another cigarette and stared out towards the ocean and Godzilla. She popped the earphones out and listened to the night. When silence reined for a couple of minutes, she felt safe opening the handle of vodka in her bag and taking a swig. She listened hard again, took another swig, packed the vodka back in, and opened the ziplock seal between the fungus and the world. She held the cigarette in her mouth while she put on the plastic gloves.
Jackie J. made her way like Johnny Appleseed, but the one she had learned about in elementary school, not the real one she learned about in college who was more business oriented, which she did not suppose was such a bad thing in and of itself, and since he undertook such important work. She stopped a few times to hit the vodka like Johnny hit cider, and to reflect on the gravity of her work, or to listen, or occasionally to light her next cigarette which she had begun to regard as a talisman of invisibility, ocean waves to hide beneath. She did not see any other students around the whole perimeter, but even throughout the heart of campus, she was able to avoid encounter or detection. J.J. brought out her book and meandered, or sat and drank some of her soda when groups of people came into view, lingering, lighting up when necessary to keep most people at a good distance. Jackie J. was asked to lend a cigarette, but the request rescinded on the mention of vanilla.
Just a few spoors remained in the ziplock by the end. She went to the bluff behind the library for the remainder of her cigarette and to take another swig. When she heard people approaching, Jackie J. scampered back to her room and relished in the silence. After a few proper shots out of a tumbler, like a lady, she opened the window, lit up, and sat on the sill, holding the failed, mold-covered portrait her dissertation committed had rejected before assigning her the mural. She breathed vanilla towards the ocean and sipped from the handle of vodka. In the morning, her voice was horse, her head splitting and ragged, and she spent the whole day in bed, happy with herself despite the miserable hangover.
Sunday, Jackie J. worked on the mural, sipped vodka from the bottle in her bag, and smoked. She had grown accustomed to doing as she pleased and even began enjoying the work on the mural, though she was still more eager to be through with it. She wondered if the fungus would spread to the buildings and cover her work for a time. Mid swig, and she heard footsteps coming around the side of the library, so she capped the handle, slipped it in her bag, popped a mint, and lit a cigarette so fast she almost caught a strand of teal hair on fire. It was Dean Reinhardt from the College of Sciences—Jorgen’s boss.
“It’s Jackie, right,” he said with a smile.
Dean Reinhardt stood appraising the mural. “You need to keep your distance from Dr. Jorgen. Do you know where he is?” The dean knew the fungus was Jorgen’s—lab analysis had confirmed it. “So, either you were aware he intended to spread the fungus or he duped you into spreading it for him, but regardless I’d recommend the university pursue legal action and expel you.”
Jackie J. said she did not know a thing about it and lit up another vanilla cigarette.
“Do you have any idea what this fungus does?”
“Weapons design for joint projects between Lockheed and Eli Lily. Have you ever heard those names? Have you ever stopped painting or smoking dope long enough to read a newspaper? Can you picture modern, black-ops bio-weapons?”
“The newspapers never mention any of that.”
Dean Reinhardt’s neck muscles flared. “You don’t have any idea what we’re dealing with here.”
“It sure seems like it.”
After a moment, he walked over to a patch of fungus on the bluff and picked some up. He worked hard to calm himself. “I just worry. No one but Jorgen knows what this is capable of.” He dropped the clump. “And he’s still unstable.” The dean had J.J. join him by the bluff, looking out towards the ocean. “Those are military vehicles down there. The president of the university has been tight lipped about what’s going on so I’m not sure he even knows. I’d bet most anything on a connection to Jorgen’s fungus. And if the fungus is involved, you’re involved.”
“I’ll be honest, it made me a little mad that my bio-art dissertation got turned down, but I’m working on this mural now. Anyways, I really couldn’t see the professor hurting anyone.”
Dean Reinhardt explained about the professor’s past, how he came to the university, that he was under the dean’s care. Jorgen worked for defense contractors which typically implied offense the way the dean described it, but Jorgen preferred the defensive side, the negation of ill-effects. He tended to get upset when his research got repurposed as active weaponry but had felt it was the only way to continue his work. “The part he never told me about,” said Dean Reinhardt, “was why, one night, after staying late in the lab, he dispersed some of the chemical agents stored on site. Thirty-two employees died, eleven of them bigwigs, before they got the situation under control. He never hinted at any of this?”
“Not a word.”
“He seemed to trust you—I’d have thought he would have said something.”
Jackie J. stayed quiet, looking off at the ocean, the Hummers blocking off the Pacific Coast Highway, turrets and rocket launchers being dug into the sand. And Dr. Jorgen had caused it.
“His bosses thought it was a good idea to let him continue working. Maybe they thought they could control him. Do you know where he sleeps every night?”
“Shouldn’t there be an evacuation?”
“You wouldn’t leave if there was. Jorgen can come to campus to work, but otherwise he has to check into a halfway house for parolees each night. Eli Lily had enough sway to get his sentence commuted. I’m the only one here at the university who knows any of this, but I trust you to keep it to yourself.” After a moment, she agreed. “If he contacts you, let me know—for your own safety.”
“Really, I will.” And Jackie J. was not sure she was lying. She felt like she had betrayed Jorgen just by talking to the dean, but Dean Reinhardt not only seemed sincere, he stank of fear for their whole chat.
At dusk, Jackie J. stopped by the cafeteria for a sandwich and some juice, hit up Campus Smoothie and asked for a large with immunity boosters, then headed back to her dorm to attend to her much-neglected coursework. She lost count of the orange spots of varying sizes on some of the leaves along the way. The next morning, out her dorm room window she saw the campus covered by the bright orange fungus, students playing in it, throwing clumps at one another. Classes were canceled, but no one had to leave—there was no danger, according to an e-mail from the University President. Jackie J. went up to the bluff and saw the half-mile deep blockade of the shoreline, tanks barricading the PCH, the beach covered with artillery. A swarm of helicopters traced along the tideline.
Jorgen walked up next to her. He had a beret and sunglasses for each of them, and the portrait she had painted of him. They both pulled out cigarettes from their own packs and lit up, facing towards the beachhead, just like Godzilla.
“It won’t be long now. They finally spotted her on sonar last night and have been looking for me.”
“Dean Reinhardt came and found me yesterday. He really wanted to talk to you.”
“I bet he flipped his lid when he saw the campus this morning.”
“I guess changing the color didn’t go too far in fooling him.”
“Still, it’s an excellent orange.” Jorgen took off his glasses and so did Jackie J. They held each other’s gaze for a time until Jorgen looked away, took a drag, and said, “Jackie J., I suppose there are some things I’d like you to know.”
While doing research on the pathogen cleansing abilities of certain deep sea fauna during his career in the private sector, Jorgen came across the nest of an enormous deep-sea lizard. When his company found out, and despite Jorgen’s protests, they took one of the eggs. The lizard pursued, then attacked the ship until Jorgen rolled the egg back into the ocean. Once on land and with the reports filed, Jorgen advised against any further dealings with the creature. The company instead joined forces with Lockheed and started testing weapons systems on it deep under the ocean to find its strengths and capabilities. The creature’s skin seemed impenetrable. Its physiology—capable of withstanding the greatest ocean pressures—easily took the impacts of explosives at zero atmospheres. Biological, radiological, everything failed.
“I pleaded with the heads of the companies to stop, to leave the poor mother alone,” Jorgen said. He pulled out another cigarette
“I’ve never seen you smoke.” And then, “Can I have one?”
“It’ll be good for you. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
When Jorgen learned of a plan to steal all the eggs, he snapped. This would draw the creature out from the ocean and create a global threat so long as they kept the eggs from the public sphere and moved them around.
“Did you really kill all those people?’
“Were they part of the project?”
“Most of them. I was in a haze at the time.”
“Do you regret it?”
Jorgen handed Jackie J. his pack of cigarettes and the portrait she had made for him. “You’re a really good painter. Make sure to finish your dissertation.” He turned towards the ocean where, following his gaze, she saw that Godzilla’s head had broken the surface of the water. Rockets and missiles launched from the shoreline, but through the bright explosions, Godzilla continued landward. A wing of fighter jets flew by, dropping payloads that may as well have been fireworks. Jorgen snubbed out his cigarette, put his sunglasses back on, and said that it was time. He walked towards the edge of the bluff. J.J. watched fuzzy clumps on his pant legs grow as more orange rolled in from all over campus, covering his body, lifting him up as great fungal legs took shape. A cockpit started to form around him. The fungus replicated his body’s movements as its electrical network came online, giving him control of the biomechanical, pollution-powered mecha. A wave like sunset tumbled down the bluff after him, clinging to the swelling mass, lifting him still higher, fifty, one hundred, nearly two hundred feet by the time he reached the bottom of the slope and all the fungus had arrived.